Vol. XLIII No. 08 February 24, 2019

The Aftermath of Pulwama

THE death of 40 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the horrific attack in Pulwama has caused sorrow and outrage among people throughout the country. Thousands of people attended the funerals of the killed jawans who were drawn from 16 states of the country.

That the Jaish e-Mohammed (JeM) is responsible for this latest atrocity has focused the role of Pakistan in harbouring the JeM chief Masood Azhar and other jihadi groups. The JeM was responsible for both the Pathankot and Uri attacks in 2016. The Pakistani government is not willing to accept its culpability in the matter and has asked India to provide proof. This typical evasive stand of the Pakistani government is condemnable.

In such a situation, India faces an uphill task through diplomacy to bring international pressure on Pakistan to take steps against Masood Azhar and the JeM. This is mainly due to two reasons. The country which can do the most in this regard is the United States. It is the US which has financed and armed the Pakistani armed forces and buttressed the political regime. While the United States government has called upon Pakistan to stop providing safe haven for terrorist groups this time too, it has, however, not done anything concrete so far, to pressurise the Pakistan government and army to take action.

The US is depending on Pakistan to advance its negotiations with the Taliban so that it can withdraw troops from Afghanistan at the earliest. In such a scenario, the Modi government has to make it clear to the Trump administration that it should not soft-pedal its stance of getting the Pakistani authorities to crackdown on the jehadi groups.

This is all the more important since any change in the Afghanistan political set-up in Taliban’s favour is going to embolden the terrorist groups in Pakistan to step up their cross-border activities in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian government’s efforts to highlight the danger of terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil will find resonance as another neighbouring country of Pakistan, Iran, is also a target. Just a day before the Pulwama attack, 27 Iranian soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber attack on their bus. The Iranian army has accused the Pakistani government and army of supporting the Jaish al- Adl (Army of Justice). But India’s efforts to close ranks with Iran against terrorist activities emanating from Pakistan, will be hampered by its inability to stand up to the relentless American hostility to Iran.

If the Modi government had any hopes about getting Saudi Arabia to exercise some influence on Pakistan, these have been swiftly belied. During Crown Prince Salman’s visit to Pakistan, the joint statement issued talked of the need to avoid politicising the UN listing regime, a reference to India’s demand that Azhar be listed as a terrorist by the UN. So neither the United States, nor Saudi Arabia which is bankrolling the Pakistani regime can be expected to pressurise Pakistan to act against the jihadi groups. China is the other power which has close ties with Pakistan, but it is not willing to go further in taking a stand, even though it is greatly concerned about jihadi activities in Xinjiang province and terrorist acts within Pakistan such as the attack on its consulate in Karachi.

Domestically, while people are united in their resolve to rebuff such terrorist violence, the BJP and the hindutva groups are out to disrupt this unity and use the occasion for targeting the Kashmiris and look for latent anti-nationals. The attacks on Kashmiri students, traders and shopkeepers in various places by Bajrang Dal and similar outfits; the shameful hounding out of Kashmiri students like in Dehradun – are all efforts to brand Kashmiri Muslims as anti-national and terrorist sympathizers. This will further alienate the people of Kashmir valley, where the root of the problem lies.

Led by the prime minister himself, the entire BJP leadership is making speeches calling for revenge and retaliation against Pakistan. The prime minister called upon all political parties to unite to face the situation, but BJP president Amit Shah lost no time to inject partisan politics; in a speech in Assam, he said the sacrifice of the jawans’ will not go in vain as it is not a Congress government at centre but that of the BJP. The resort to jingoism and calls for revenge indicate some sort of cross-border military operation is being considered. But apart from the incentive of electoral gains for the ruling party, it is doubtful whether military action will serve the strategic purpose of curbing terrorism from across the border.

The demand for some sort of military intervention must be treated with due caution. Earlier such cross-border strikes, including the surgical strike of September, 2016, did not yield much results. Talk of a “limited war” without escalation is downright irresponsible. Any such step will have unpredictable consequences.

The hard reality is that the situation in the Kashmir valley has deteriorated further since the surgical strike of September 2016. The number of militant attacks went up from 222 in 2014 to 614 in 2018. The number of security personnel killed went up from 47 in 2014 to 80 in 2017 to 91 in 2018.

More disturbingly, for the first time since 2000, more local militants were killed than foreign militants in 2018. Of the 246 militants killed, 150 were local militants and 90 were foreigners.

This indicates the deep alienation of the people of the valley and the increased attraction of militancy for the youth. It is here that the heart of the problem lies and its malign manifestation in Pulwama.

It is necessary, therefore, to bring the main focus back to Kashmir and the political resolution of the problem. Unless there is a political process which addresses the problems and issues of the Kashmiri people, the resort to the hard option of using force and the armed forces to tackle the problem will only aggravate the situation with the vicious and unending cycle of militant violence and counter-measures by the security forces.

The Modi government has singularly failed to adopt a political process to deal with the burning issues in Kashmir. It had the best opportunity to do so given the fact that the BJP was also in coalition government in the state with the PDP. It not only squandered the opportunity, but used it to further communalise the divide between Jammu and Kashmir and unleashed brutal repression on civilian protests.

The long road to peace and normalcy can be undertaken only by a political dialogue and recognising the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in the constitution.

By not undertaking this democratic political process, the Modi government will end up being seen as merely resorting to jingoism and rousing passions. Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of armed forces and para-military forces in Jammu and Kashmir are locked in a growing confrontation with the Kashmiri people themselves with resultant casualties; not to speak of the ravages suffered by the ordinary people in the valley.

(February 20, 2019)